Introduction and Variations on a theme of Mozart Op 9  Published by Jacaranda Music
  A discussion of the main differences between the two edition consulted in the preparation of the Jacaranda Music Edition. For some consideration of the piece as a whole click here

The Jacaranda Music edition of Sor's Op 9 draws on two early editions; the first edition, published was in London in 1821, and the second* Meissonnier edition, published in Paris in 1826 or 1827.

While an exhaustive bar-by-bar comparison would be interesting, it would probably be more exhausting to both reader and writer than is useful, so these are relatively general remarks. The reader is advised to consult published facsimile editions for themselves if they are that curious.

The main differences is that the 1st edition is of bulky, ungainly appearance compared to the 2nd, which is a smoother, more modern looking engraving.

The first page of both is almost identical except that the 2nd has a full-close double bar at the end, and lacks the slur in bar 13 (all bars are of the JM edition of course).

The second page covers the same notes, both have the short 'ossia' bar for the repeat in the 2nd half of the theme, in the 1st edition it is marked "for the 2.d time", in the 2nd, "Pour la fois" (means the same thing in French!). In the Theme the 1st edition carries one of the most glaring engraving errors in guitar history (perhaps!) in missing out 2 quaver (8th) notes of the tune in bar 35. The fault is of course fixed in 2nd edition; so at least some proof-reading reading went on, at least sometimes. The 2nd edition has slurs on string 2, they are missing in 1st. Much the same applies to Variation 1.

The third page has the same layout in each. Variation 2 is marked "Mineur" in both (note that no tempo change is specified here), though the cancelled accidentals are at the start of Var 2 in 1st edition. In bar 69 2nd edition clarifies the fingering helpfully, there is none in 1st here. Both editions miss out the universally presumed F double sharp at the beginning of bar 82.

On page 4 both editions state "Piu mosso" for Var. 4. 2nd edition has helpful fingering such as giving the E at the start of bar 89 as open, therefore putting the G on string 2, it also gives slurs on string 2 in the 2nd section of the variation, and staccato dots of the kind normally assumed to mean 'don't slur', and so omitted from the JM edition. Both editions give Var 5 as "Piu mosso", and both show slurs on string 2. In bar 107 both editions give the last beat as A#, F#, B. Many recent editions double-sharpen the F presumably to follow bars 116-117, but as both these original editions stick with F sharp, so does the JM edition. 2nd edition notates bars 109 etc with semiquaver (16th note) beams, 1st edition as quaver (8th note) beams.

On page 5, both editions give 1st and 2nd time bars and place the word 'Coda' below the 2nd time bar, just before the three open 6th string Es. (Note that there is no change of tempo indicated here). In bar 122 there is disagreement over notes in the accompanying middle voice; in 1st the first beat reads B (in melody,) A -string 4 - C# - string 3. In 2nd it reads B (in melody,) C# -string 3 - E - string 2. Both these variants are perfectly possible and have different supporting factors. The JM edition prefers the 1st edition, partly because its the 1st edition, and partly because it correctly resolves the G# and, - subjectively! - flows better in the hand. In bar 133 both editions give the D as a 4th string, normal note; making this a harmonic seems to be a recent habit. 2nd edition gives a finger number and marks it " touche" (12th fret). Both editions give the tricky chord in bar 134 as containing an F double-sharp. Orthodox contemporary notation would give this as G natural to make the chord a conventional German 6th (augmented 6th). The fingering in 2nd edition specifically excludes the open E which some use to make the chord easier. It is improper to do this because it spoils the clarity of resolution of the A# up to the B. Both editions clearly give the rising scales in bars 136 and 138 as slurred triplets; to be exact, both show slurs over the '3' marking the triplet (not that the '3' is necessary since the music has been in triplets since bar 105!). No fingering or other guidance is present to indicate how to articulate or finger these bars, but it is clear from Sor's writings that he tended normally to slur such passages, and the presence of the marked slurs is strongly suggestive of actual upward slurring for the left hand. Both bars are marked similarly and so to do one in one fashion and the other differently seems to contradict clearly the intent shown in the text. 2nd edition shows the word "Barrez" by the penultimate chord.


 * The first Meissonnier edition, published by 1822, was a shortened version leaving out the difficult bits.


 Broader thoughts about Sor's Op 9


This piece is justly famous - it is probably the most played and recorded guitar piece of the early 19th century. This is partly because of the performances of Segovia, though he removed the Introduction. Works and composers championed by Segovia always had a major 'head-start' over those not so lucky.

So is this work really that good? I think in the end much of this kind of thing has to be subjective, but let us look a little further into where Op 9 fits into the scheme of things.

One interesting experiment is to consider how one would understand a composer's works if you removed a particular piece from their output. How would we appreciate Sor if there was no Op 9 variations? Another way of putting it is to ask what would be the effect if a piece appeared from nowhere.

  This happened with Sor in 1994 when a work was published for the first time*. The manuscript had been owned by a private collector who evidently took the view that its value lay in the fact that nobody else had access to it.

 *Fantaisie Pour Guitare Seule Ed Pepe Romero Tuscany Publications GME 010

  Its new owner, Pepe Romero took the better view that publishing it in a copyright-secure modern edition was doing right by everybody. Its a lovely piece and I encourage you to buy it; however the work itself adds nothing new to our understanding of Sor. It is essentially in the same musical language and form as other later works such as Op 46, Op 52 and Op 58.  
  When you look at Sor's final major solo, the Fantaisie Elégiaque Op 59, you can see that this work is more or less unprecedented in Sor's output. If this piece appeared by magic from nowhere, we really would have to rethink Sor.  
  And funnily enough I would argue that something similar applies to Op 9. At this early stage in his composition, in many pieces Sor seemed to be almost against allowing the instrument to help the player. Works like Op 7 and Op 10 - right around Op 9! - are really hard work in comparison, and while both get played - very occasionally - neither is in the same popularity league as Op 9. Op 9 really does do a populist, let-your-hair down, play to the gallery type of thing. Variation 5 and the Coda in particular are, frankly, showing off. Of course there is bravado and technical brilliance in many of Sor's works but - subjectively of course - to this writer that of Op 9 is of a more facile, ingratiating nature.  

This leads to an interesting, if perhaps highly debateable conclusion. The choice of theme for the variations in Op 9 is a little odd. To quote the JM edition;

The tune appears in the fifth number before the end of Act I. Monostatos and his slaves are about to put Pamina and Papageno in chains when, just in time, Papageno sets his magic bells ringing. The villains are entranced by the sound and drop the chains. They sing a simplified version of the 'magic bells' glockenspiel melody, and dance away in a manner many productions portray as quite grotesque, singing as they go:

Das klinget so herrlich, das klinget so schön! La-ra-la la la la-ra-la la la-ra-la!

Nie hab'ich so etwas gehört, noch gesehn,

which may be summarised as "That sounds so pretty, that sounds so beautiful! (La-ra-la) Never did I hear anything like it..."

We know from the editions published in the Op 40s that Sor had something of a running battle with his music buying public. They wanted things to be 'easy' and not too academic, while Sor wanted to write music that was 'correct' by his models in the works of Hadyn and Mozart - even though that meant some hard work, especially for the left hand. Assuming Sor was having this trouble with his listening public in the earlier years in which Op 9 appeared, it is almost as though he is having a serious dig at his audiences.


What I mean by this, is that it is as though Sor is comparing his audiences at the fashionable soirées - "At the Nobilities Concerts" and "á L'Ecole Royale de Musique" with the grotesque specimens of humanity embodied by Monostatos and his henchmen, because of the way their critical senses leave them upon hearing the 'magic bells' of the guitar. Why else choose such a simple, unprepossessing melody, coming from such a strange episode in the opera, and subject it to a treatment of a superficial virtuosity that you will never again repeat?

Now, that speculation may or may not have the slightest basis in fact - and don't you dare go spreading it around the internet or anywhere else, as perfect truth! It does leave the original question unanswered, (- is this pieces really that good?) - though with implications still to consider.

Sor probably is the greatest composer-guitarist of his time, perhaps the greatest of all time. If he has faults, these may chiefly be related to his use of structure, which over longer forms doesn't always work, and his tendency on occasion to write dense, one might say stodgy passages of compositional propriety but instrumental awkwardness.

I would suggest that in Op 9, whether spurred by a populist charge or not, Sor rises above both tendencies. The structure of a work in variation form is something of a straight-jacket, but because of this, can be most problematic. Here all the proportions work - including the Introduction - and precisely because of the graded increase in tempo in variations 4 and 5, it builds to an effective climax which justifies the fireworks involved. And for sure, there is nothing here - well OK, some of the Introduction is a little awkward - has that finger-bending difficulty found so often elsewhere. It basically lies under the fingers and you can fly with it. Its not easy of course, because you have to be able to fly as it wants, but the obstacles in the way seem less oppressive.

And needless to say, the ideas - the musical detail assembled into this structure - are full of delightful, felicitous turns of phrase, maintaining the inspiration throughout.

It is certainly no surprise then that this audience-rousing item, readily despatched from the fingerboard, has come to occupy such a place in the repertoire. I am not actually going to make a definitive answer as to whether its 'that good', or 'Sor's best piece' or whatever, and I am afraid its because I would rather you go and do the work, listening, playing and studying scores yourself - sorry!

The reason for this is also that it is too difficult a question to handle in this kind of space, even though we have covered a fair bit of ground already in this discussion. It certainly does not matter in the slightest to the piece itself, which is assured of its place in the repertoire for the forseeable future.



Please consult the Tecla facsimile edition Volume 1 of the complete Sor and Brian Jeffery's Fernando Sor - Composer and Guitarist Tecla Editions for further information.


 All text on this page is copyright © Stephen Kenyon

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